"There are people who own dogs and love dogs. And then there are dog people—the ones who go a little overboard. These are the people who are so doggy, everything they do is sort of a dog thing." - William Wegman
It should come as no shock to any of you who get a kick out of my Furry Friday posts that I am a big fan of William Wegman. This picture is a 1986 Wegman image called “Roller Rover,” in which his beloved cinnamon-gray Weimaraner Fay Wray is seen perched atop two pairs of roller skates. The picture, now 26 years old, remains a definitive example of the work that has made Wegman one of the world’s most widely-known conceptual artists. It combines comedy, surrealism, and satire, anthropomorphizing at will—but always with a purpose. His pictures puncture the regal bearing of the beautiful dogs by surrounding the animals with the absurd artifacts of everyday human life.
William Wegman was born in 1943 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He received a B.F.A. in painting from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston in 1965 and an M.F.A. in painting from the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana in 1967. From 1968 to 1970 he taught at the University of Wisconsin. In the fall of 1970 he moved to Southern California where he taught for one year at California State College, Long Beach. By the early 70s, Wegman's work was being exhibited in museums and galleries internationally. In addition to solo shows with Sonnabend Gallery in Paris and New York, Situation Gallery in London and Konrad Fisher Gallery in Dusseldorf , his work was included in such seminal exhibitions as "When Attitudes Become Form," and "Documenta V" and regularly featured in Interfunktionen, Artforum and Avalanche.
It was while he was in Long Beach that Wegman got his dog, Man Ray, with whom he began a long and fruitful collaboration. Man Ray, known in the art world and beyond for his endearing deadpan presence, became a central figure in Wegman's photographs and videotapes. In 1981, Man Ray died. It was not until 1986 that Wegman got a new dog, Fay Ray, and another collaboration began marked by Wegman's extensive use of the Polaroid 20 x 24 camera. With the birth of Fay's litter in 1989, Wegman's cast of grew to include Fay's offspring — Battina, Crooky and Chundo — and later, their offspring: Battina's son Chip in 1995, Chip's son Bobbin in 1999 and Candy and Bobbin's daughter Penny in 2004. Out of Wegman's involvement with this cast of characters grew a series of childrens' book inspired by the dogs' various acting abilities: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, ABC, Mother Goose, Farm Days, My Town, Surprise Party and Chip Wants a Dog (all Hyperion). Wegman has also published a number of books for adults including Man's Best Friend, Fashion Photographs and William Wegman 20 x 24 (all Abrams) and Fay and The New York Times Bestseller Puppies (both Hyperion).
Wegman has created film and video works for Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon and his video segments for Sesame Street have appeared regularly since 1989. His videos include Alphabet Soup, Fay's Twelve Days of Christmas and Mother Goose. In 1995, Wegman's film The Hardly Boys was screened at the Sundance Film Festival. After a twenty year hiatus, Wegman returned to the format of his video work from the 70s producing two new series of video works in 1998 and 1999. A collection of his selected video works from 1970-99 was recently released on DVD by Artpix.
Numerous retrospectives of Wegman's work have been made among them "Wegman's World," which opened at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 1981 and toured the United States and "William Wegman: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, Videotapes," which opened at the Kunstmuseum, Lucerne in 1990 traveling to venues across Europe and the United States including the Pompidou Center, Paris and The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. More recent exhibitions have included retrospectives in Sweden, Japan, Korea and Spain and, most recently the exhibition "Funney/Strange," which opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2006 with a catalogue published by Yale University, making its final stop at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus in the fall of 2007.
William Wegman lives in New York and Maine where he continues to make videos, to take photographs and to make drawings and paintings.